It’s a cold spring morning and I’m standing before a crowd of students in a high school auditorium. The audience is a swirl of red. I’m as blue as Barry Goldwater, and feel as old. They neither know of him, nor of me. I have to deliver an idea which is extremely complicated and make it wildly simple. I’m serving only fresh straight-up whole foods, hold the pasta, pizza and pita. They want snacks and soft drinks with so much salt and sugar that it's slaying them. They are bold and young and can do me no harm; I’m anxious; I must win their hearts and minds. But how? After introductions, I start my first sentence with a question, “Has anyone here heard of Brand Blanshard?” He’s an American rationalist philosopher who with extreme grace under pressure, espoused and championed an unassailable and exceptional conception of reason during a period when it came under attack worldwide, especially from within academic philosophy itself.
Utter silence follows. Not a soul has heard of who well might be the most important philosopher in the world. “What about Jean-Paul Sartre?” I ask after a moment. Complete recognition comes from every corner.
I follow this with, “Thomas Szasz?” He’s the eminent philosopher of psychiatry from New York State, a social critic of the moral and scientific foundations of psychiatry who believes that suicide, the practice of medicine, use and sale of drugs and sexual relations should be private, contractual and outside the jurisdiction of the state. By any standard a defender of individual liberty. The response: Nothing–no recognition at all. “Sigmund Freud?” Instant total identification.
And so it went. Karl Popper’s name produced not a peep. He’s a critical rationalist who is counted among the most influential philosophers of science and mathematics of the last century. When I mention Karl Marx’s name, it practically wins an ovation of credit. Understandably, everyone in the room has heard of him. Force goes a long way as any Muslim and Christian historian will tell you if they’re honest.
George Santayana’s name aught not to have been mentioned. He’s a principal figure in modern philosophy and produced one of its most important modern works, The Life of Reason. Friedrich Nietzsche’s name received acknowledgment all around. Many think him the supreme individualist–a visionary.
Ludwig von Mises’ mention drew a blank. He’s an Austrian economist, philosopher and a major influence on the ideas of liberty, a stalwart critic of socialist’s economics and the founder of The Austrian School of Economics. Maynard Keynes is a British economist who created Keynesian economics and had a major impact on the large liberal governments of our times. His brand takes immediate preferment. I make a joke about Marxism on the rocks which no one receives well. Not a single laugh. Ugh!
The reaction to Friedrich Hayek’s name was null. He’s an Austrian/British economist and political philosopher known for his defense of classical liberalism and free-markets against socialist and collectivist thought in the last century. Noam Chomsky, the linguist philosopher on the other side of the isle, received some pointed acknowledgment, though not anything like the recognition factor of Marx and Freud, but certainly not the kind of nix produced by the names of Hayek, Szasz, Mises, Popper, Santayana and Blanshard.
This is Why the West is in the Conundrum of its Lifetime; But, What To Do?
The thing about Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Sartre, Keynes and Chomsky is that to varying degrees they are seated solidly in the collectivists’ camp. Many of them are anti-democratic, (Marx, Freud, Sartre, Chomsky, Nietzsche). Half of them distrust individual liberty (Marx, Chomsky, Keynes). Most of them support large states (Marx, Sartre, Keynes, Chomsky). Most of them think man’s mind is a dark continent, (Marx, Sartre, Freud, Nietzsche). All of them think man is a tragic figure.
The six philosophers of reason on the other hand (Blanshard, Hayek, Mises, Popper, Santayana, Szasz), as well as being some of the world’s most important philosophers, are all moderate in their views, atheists and democrats–all think of man as a romantic figure.
The truth may lie somewhere in between tragic and romantic, but how could we have missed so blindly being interested in this explication of reason over the negative assertion of intuition, instinct and pessimism? See, Reason and Religion, Reason and Skepticism and Reason and Myth.
© 2020 - E. A. St. Amant